The Shaman's Tale

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The Shaman's Tale

Author: Felix Sagittarius

The Shaman's Tale

by Felix Sagittarius

We trotted together, my Herd Stallion Spinning Wind and I, beneath the evening stars. The last edge of the sunset glowed still on the horizon, and the drawn bow of a new moon hung low in the western sky.

"Thanks for inviting me to go with you on this sweep," I said. "I've been so busy with my duties to the herd and my Shamanic work I'd almost forgotten how peaceful it can be out here."

"No problem my friend, I am glad of the company," Spinning Wind said. "There is little trouble out here on the plains, but I must do these sweeps to be sure, and four eyes and the skills of a Shaman make the work easier."

"My Apprentice needs the time with the entire load on his hooves anyway, as a graduation test. He's done very well, and I'm as proud of him as if he were my own foal," I replied. "The herd has grown so much since you became Herd Stallion! The foals need care, and the fights in the bachelor herd require healing too."

Spinning Wind lowered his ears in mild embarrassment at my praise, then said, "My duty, both to the mares and to any bachelor who wishes to try me." He sighed, then said, "I can show no favorites among the mares, and no comradery to the young stallions, so you offer a friendship without worry. Without you, this job would be deeply lonely. Thank you."

"Your health is a part of my duties too, and to have your friendship makes my days more pleasant as well," I replied.

We continued our sweep into the advancing night in quiet companionship, hoofbeats echoing into the dark. The reep-reep of crickets, the swishing of tall grass against our legs, the sudden thumpthumpthump of a fleeing rabbit, a faint hiss of an owl's wings, drifting through the night as it hunted - sounds of a living world. I relaxed, and sank into the peace, falling into a light meditative state as we passed along.

Spinning Wind snorted, then halted abruptly. "Shadow Watcher, look ahead," he whispered. "Do you see something?"

"A faint glow, as from a small fire," I said. I reached with the powers of a Shaman, then said quietly, "I feel one being, older than either of us - I can tell more, closer in, but he has the feel of one of the New People."

"Thank you," he whispered back. "Please wait here, until I call. If I am hurt or killed, summon the herd to avenge me."

"I feel no aggression or menace," I replied. "Be careful, and this will come out all right."

He nodded, a motion almost lost against the dark, then walked toward the light.

With a quiet chuckle I thought, "Stallions! Always so dramatic. Almost makes me glad for what I am."

I continued to watch with my powers, while the warm breeze of summer drifted from behind me. There was a sudden 'flare' as the person in the camp Changed - showing that he was one of the New Peoples. The creature moved from behind the fire and became visible in the firelight as a stallion, one of us. I heard him challenge Spinning Wind then felt the 'flare' as Spinning Wind Changed, drew his Spear of Office and replied. A faint conversation followed. With the wind behind me, it was just a murmur, then Spinning Wind turned and gestured for me to join them. He planted the spear point down, indicating a truce, then waited for me.

I closed the fire quickly at a canter, tearing my way through the tall grasses. I slowed to a walk, then Changed to two hooves as I got close. As I walked in, I saw a strange sight - a stallion of the New People, wearing Human clothes! I had some experience with humans, having served and trained with one during a phase of my apprenticeship, but I had left the clothes the Mage had provided when I returned to the herd. All I had left from that experience were the Sigils the Mage had placed permanently on my withers, showing my rank as a Shaman.

Spinning Wind turned and said to me, "Shaman, this is Dapple. He's in transit to a human settlement to provide security for a convoy." Turning to the old stallion, Spinning Wind said, "Dapple, this is Herd Shaman Shadow Watcher, my friend."

"Greetings and be welcome to my camp, Shaman Shadow Walker. I have some oatmeal cooking over the fire - if you'd like I could add more for you two. Wouldn't take but a minute, and you'll want to speak to me anyway." Dapple said, then busied himself over the pot before we could say anything. He added oats and water, then stirred it into the bubbling mix.

"Take a few minutes for that to cook in, so why don't you sit, and we'll talk." Dapple said.

We all sat, then Dapple said to Spinning Wind, "Do you know what happens to stallions after they loose their herds?"

"They just leave," Spinning Wind replied. "The Lead Mare hands the Spear to the victor and they leave. I saw it happen as a yearling, then once while I was in the Bachelor herd, and when I won my herd. We speculated on where they went, but no one knows."

"Some go on and conquer other herds," Dapple said. "And some find work with the humans, as I did. What do you know of humans?" he asked.

"That they are very ancient, very dangerous, and to be treated with the highest of respect. I have never met any myself, but saw a small group who camped near us when I was a foal. A small people, nearly furless - they seemed weak, but my dam drove us foals away before I saw more. Shadow Watcher knows more of them, as part of his apprenticeship was spent with one." Spinning Wind said.

Dapple turned to me, with a question in his eyes, then lifted the pot from the dung fire to cool.

"They are the original rulers of this world," I replied. "Their learning is immensely deep, they have populations on the other worlds of this system, and out among the stars. They accidentally created the races of the New peoples during the Manna Wars, and now seem to regard us as their children. So I gathered from the Mage I served."

Dapple nodded, then said, "They are much reduced from the effects of the Manna Wars - it seems to have affected their reproductive facilities. Somehow, they have called for help from their peoples among the stars, who were not affected by the wars, and that help is due soon. They haven't told me of their plans, but they promise that the New Peoples will be allowed to follow their destinies in peace. I and many others of the New Peoples have lived and worked among them for season on season, but they are still very strange to us."

"Ah, the oatmeal is ready," he continued. He drew two bowls from his packs, filled them, then added salt from a small container. He handed them to us, then laughed and said, "I am sorry, but I only have two bowls. I shall eat from the pot." He added salt to the food there, then lifted the pot and said, "By salt and food, peace upon this meeting."

We both replied, "By food and by salt, peace." and began scraping the oatmeal from the bowls.

"I remember this," Spinning Wind said. "My Dam gave me a bowl as a gift on my yearling day, when we parted and I went to the bachelor herd. Memories - I only thought it tasted so good because of the years passing."

Both Dapple and I smiled, memories of our own partings flickering in our minds.

Dapple said, "Yes, this is human made - they refine the grasses to make it, in ways we as wanderers can't. We save it for treats, as we have little to buy it from them with but our service."

"I would like to see more of the humans," Spinning Wind sighed. "But, I have my duties. And speaking of which, we have our sweep to complete. You have my permission to pass through my herd's territory, and perhaps we will meet again."

As we climbed to our feet, Dapple said, "I will be traveling two hands north of the setting sun if you wish further converse, and I thank you for the chat and permission."

I Changed back to four hooves, but Spinning Wind took a minute to pull up the Spear and wipe the blade clean.

He said, "Thank you for your hospitality, Dapple. Travel in peace." Then he placed the Spear in its holder. He fell to four hooves beside me, and we trotted away, into the dark of the night.

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"There he goes again," I heard the Lead Mare, White Star, murmur. "That's three nights in a row." She pawed at the ground, nervous and undecided as to what she should do. Abruptly, she called, "Shadow Watcher, please come here."

I shook my head, loosing the last of the dream state I'd been in, then stood and shook my body. Fully in the world again, I walked over to White Star, then lowered my head and spread my ears to her position. "How may I help you, Lead Mare?" I said.

"Shaman, you are his friend. Where is he going, and why? Has he told you?" she asked. "If the bachelor herd or a challenger finds him gone, there may be trouble."

"He told you of the old stallion wanderer, Dapple, didn't he?" I asked. She nodded. "To visit him, that's where. Spinning Wind feels an ending is coming, and he wishes to know more of the world outside the herd."

"Ahhh, I thought so, " she sighed. "He has been a very good Stallion, and has lasted a very long time, much longer than most."

"I know," I said. "He is a skilled and tricky fighter, and a diplomat, easing problems with the bachelors and other herds. But, no one is Herd Stallion forever."

"Shaman, I will tell you something you may already guess," she said. "We mares not only give him his due, as we should, but we have come to love him. So many fine foals, and only a couple lost! I know of few Herd Stallions with his record and length of service. We have had other herds actually asking for our yearlings! Unheard of!"

I laughed gently, then said, "Yes, I know. I will miss him terribly. He is strong, yet a gentle spirit. Friends like him are rare among us."

She pawed again, thinking, then said, "What will you do when he leaves?"

"Why, I hadn't thought....mmm, my apprentice Dark Moon is fully trained, and it is time he was on his own," I mused.

"I thought so," she laughed softly. "My daughter is trained and ready as well. But, I don't know if I should go. Loosing all of us at once..."

"Lady, we all started that way, being tossed into the job - that's what training is for. I became Shaman only two moons after he took the herd, and my apprentice will either have his chance soon, or will leave for another herd."

"Aye, and so for my daughter," she agreed. "Well, let us hope the moment doesn't come soon."

"Lady, that was what I was dream chasing. I am afraid his challenger approaches."

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I trotted steadily through the night, my skills with the Manna telling me where Spinning Wind was. I sighed again, as I remembered White Star's instructions: "Find him, Shaman. Make him eat and get some sleep. I will meet with the challenger and tell him that the Herd Stallion is on a long sweep around the herd for trouble, and ask him to wait till morning. If he is of good breeding, he should. Now go, and luck to us all."

I was worried. My vision of the challenger was of a stallion both young and strong, and I knew that my friend was loosing his edge. Still, he had a fearsome reputation, and had beaten many others. Fate is what it is, and only the Gods knew the end of this.

My musings were interrupted by the faint sound of hoof beats. They came from the direction I knew Spinning Wind had gone, but I stopped and waited to see who it was. The hoof beats got steadily louder, then the wind brought me the scent - it was him. I nickered, to alert him to my presence, and the hoof beats stopped abruptly.

"Who's there? Wait - Shadow Watcher, is that you?" he called. "What are you doing away from the herd?"

"Hello, Spinning Wind. Yes, it's me. White Star asked me to intercept you and tell you of my latest vision," I said. "You have a challenger coming."

"So what?" he laughed. "I've had so many, he's just one more."

"You've been up all night talking to Dapple, and you need sleep and a good feeding," I replied. "I'm here to watch over you while you sleep, and to make sure you do graze for a while. If you don't, I'll know you're getting sloppy about your preparations, and I'll tell White Star."

He grumbled that he'd been away too long anyway, but, under my watchful eye, he settled to grazing. I joined him, and after a while he decided to sleep. I moved alongside him, head to tail, and we dozed together.

I was awakened by a tingle of manna, a sign my apprentice needed to speak to me. I roused, shook my head, then 'called' him. "Yes?" I said.

"Tell Spinning Wind he has a challenger waiting," he 'said', and sent a 'sighting' of him. A big sturdy fellow, and young, with enough scars to show his experience. He was going to be trouble. "Thank you," I 'told' my apprentice. "We'll be in shortly."

"What was that about?" Spinning Wind murmured, sleepily.

"You have a challenger waiting for you at the herd," I said.

He roused fully and snorted, then said, "Well, give me a moment, and we'll head in." He walked over to the stream and took a deep drink.

"Come along," he said, and trotted off.

I smiled to myself, and followed him.

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When we arrived at the herd, Spinning Wind went straight to White Star and asked, "Where is he?"

She nickered in humor, then said, "Always ready for a fight, that's you. Come," she said, and walked off.

There, off to one side of the herd, was the challenger, grazing. He raised his head as we approached, then dropped it and spread his ears in honor to the Herd Stallion and Lead Mare. He said, "Ah, you are here. I am called Blaze, and now I officially notify you that I Challenge you for possession of this herd."

"Heard and witnessed," both I and White Star chorused.

Spinning Wind walked over to Blaze, then around him, examining his opponent. "He has been tested?" he asked White Star.

"Yes he has," she replied. "And Apprentice Shaman Dark Moon has checked him for fertility. He passes all tests."

"Well, youngster, Challenger has choice of form - Traditional four hooves? Or two, in the modern fashion?" Spinning Wind said.

"I prefer four Hooves, Herd Stallion, although I can fight well in both styles," Blaze replied.

"So be it," Spinning Wind replied. To White Star he said, "Has a circle been prepared?"

"It has. I've had the mares walking a circle to beat down the grass," she replied. "All is ready." She shifted to two hooves.

Spinning Wind also shifted to two hooves, handed the Spear to White Star along with the harness, then shifted back to four hooves.

"Shaman, please summon the herd," Spinning Wind said to me. "Youngster, lets go," he said to Blaze.

I summoned the herd with a touch of Manna, then followed with White Star. "He's confident, as always," I murmured to her. She smiled back.

The mares, foals, and the bachelors lined the ring at a short distance, to witness the fairness of the fight. Spinning Wind and his Challenger stood in the ring.

"Shaman, please give us a start," Spinning Wind said. The two opponents settled themselves, then I cried, "Begin!"

Instantly, the two stallions struck at each other, and the fight was on. The circle seemed to be full of dancing, striking, biting, swirling horses as they fought for position and struck at each other. Grunts came as kicks and bites got home, and blood spattered the grass and watchers. Spinning Wind seemed to be in full control of the bout, and Blaze was being punished. But, age takes its toll, and Wind on the Grass broke for a moment to gasp for breath. Blaze seized the moment, spun around, then struck with his hind hooves. Spinning Wind staggered sideways from the blow; a crackling 'crunch' was heard as ribs broke. He never really recovered from that devastating blow. Blaze made the most of his new advantage, hammering Spinning Wind relentlessly, until, finally, Spinning Wind broke and fled from the ring. A sigh came from the gathered herd - The Herd Stallion they'd known so long, who'd kept them safe and well, was gone.

Blaze screamed his triumph. White Star approached him, bowed, and said, "Hail, Herd Stallion!" I entered the ring and summoned Manna to begin healing his injuries. After a few minutes he was able to change to two foot form and accept the Spear and harness that White Star handed him. We got it settled on his body, then we turned to the assembled herd. I called, "Here is your new Herd Stallion, chosen by lawful combat! Hail him!" And the Herd cried 'Hail'!

"With your permission, Herd Stallion, I will attend Spinning Wind," I said. "My apprentice says he's badly hurt."

"Yes, please do so, Shaman," Blaze replied. "Defeating someone is one thing, killing entirely another. Please give him my thanks for a good fair fight, and tell him that I wish him well."

I dropped my head and spread my ears, then turned and left.

I trotted over to Spinning Wind, who was standing with his head down, shivering and gasping for breath. My Apprentice had been working on his wounds, and I summoned more Manna to help. We checked him over carefully, looking at his injuries. He'd been badly battered before he broke, but the worst damage was several cracked or broken ribs from Blaze's kick. My Apprentice was using the Manna to repairing the lesser injuries, but the ribs were a problem, since Manna works less well on bone.

"Well, old friend, you've got a problem with those ribs," I said. "Luckily, they didn't puncture a lung. It will be a while, but you'll heal completely."

He shuddered, then in a low voice he mourned, "Will I? I've lost my place. Now where do I go?"

"Why not go and talk to Dapple?" I asked. "You'll find you have company on your trip."

Seeing that Spinning Wind was at least free of pain, I turned to my Apprentice. I said, "Come with me." Puzzled, he followed as I walked over to Blaze.

"Apprentice, you have done very well. I consider you fully trained and ready," I said. "You are now a full Shaman. I have noticed your fascination with the Moon. As a Graduation gift, I give you a new Name - you are now Shaman Moon Watcher." Moon Watcher gasped as I used the Manna to inscribe the Sigils of a Full Shaman on his withers.

"Herd Stallion," I said. "This is your new Shaman, Moon Watcher. He has been my apprentice, and is very good. I am leaving the herd at this time."

Blaze said, "I will be sorry to loose you, Shaman, but I have spoken with Shaman Moon Watcher during the night, and believe you are right that he is ready. So be it."

Moon Watcher said, "Thank you, Master, thank you! May I contact you in matters I have trouble with?"

I smiled and replied, "Any time you need help, or just a confidence builder, I am always available to you. Now go, and do well."

I walked back to Spinning Wind, and was unsurprised to find White Star there already.

"Turned over your job too?" I asked.

"While you were working on our friend here," she laughed.

Turning to Spinning Wind I said, "We will escort you to Dapple, then stay with you in the journeys ahead. What are friends for, otherwise?"

He lifted his head and looked at us, eyes wet, then said, "Thank you, thank you, from my heart. This will be easier with both of you around."

"Then, lets go," I laughed. "The future waits!"

At a walk in deference to Spinning Wind's ribs, we ambled off into the future.

End (?) 9/01/08